Seven Ways of Identifying And Overcoming Implicit Bias In Nursing


As a nurse, you care for patients from many different walks of life. Your patients may come from various socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, genders, sexualities and speak many languages.

As your role is vital to the wellbeing of these people, you must ask yourself if you harbor any biases that need to be examined.

Do you look at a patient with preconceived notions and prejudice? Are you already judging a patient on their life choices even before asking them their medical history?

Have you ever feared for your life while caring for a patient of a certain race? If you have answered yes so far, you may have some introspection to do.

Implicit bias is an unhelpful and limiting attitude to view the world with. Instead of rational judgment, it makes you lean towards irrational stereotypes, prejudices, and unfair decisions. Patients deserve your utmost care and attention, but the bias you carry may deprive them of it.

Therefore, to break this habit and transform yourself into a top-notch professional, here’s what you need to do:


1. Figure Out How Biased You Are

You may not be aware of how prejudiced you are on a cognitive level. This is where you can turn to online platforms for help.

Project implicit is a nonprofit organization that developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT). In this test, you work through many categories that reveal what you usually perceive as accurate about people different from you.

The results can also let you know the approach you have been defaulting to while managing a case that you are biased towards.

Unless you actively combat Implicit Bias in Nursing, you will struggle to advocate for all your patients fairly.

Your automatic associations will make it hard for you to help someone when you feel threatened by them. Therefore, before fighting the good fight, take the assessment and determine where your blind spots are.


2. Train Yourself to See Patients as Equals

Healthcare providers often let their biases compromise their work ethic. For instance, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, healthcare givers with high IAT scores almost drown out the opinions of black patients.

Consequently, they distrust their healthcare providers and lose confidence in them. A patient is not your competitor, and if you have a habit of talking down at them, you need to stop. You should train yourself to see patients as people who need your help.

So, when you enter the exam room, don’t immediately launch into getting their medical history in a cold and detached manner.

You will need to establish a ground of familiarity to help you connect with the patient more. Have a friendly conversation, learn to say the patient’s name correctly, and introduce yourself.

Take pauses between your sentences so you get time to think and appropriately phrase your question. This will help you maintain a friendly exchange of empathy and focus on your case instead of letting your prejudice cloud you.


3. Take Up More Diverse Cases

Limiting yourself to one type of patient will not shift your attitude. If you choose all white, heterosexual male patients, you will never get a chance to learn about life as profoundly as you could with other patients.

This may further reinforce your biases as you may see only a particular group of patients worthy of your time.

Therefore, to prevent yourself from pigeonholing patients, work with a more diverse sample and ensure that you listen before you speak or arrive at conclusions.

Include patients of different ethnicities, gender, and religion so that other cultures are normalized in your mind, and your prejudicial attitude is dented.

Exposure can also make you mindful about how you communicate and improve your bedside manner. More importantly, it can increase your compassion for all of your patients irrespective of their identity.


4. Work With Diverse Healthcare Providers

A hospital also houses diverse healthcare providers. Your emotional growth stagnates when you choose to hang around within the same group that shares your mindset.

Strive to partner with practitioners who come from different backgrounds. Have conversations with your colleagues on their experience, challenges and hurdles they have overcome, and their approach to medicine.

You should also watch how other healthcare providers interact with patients and identify how it makes you feel. For example, notice how a Hispanic doctor interacts with Hispanic patients and compare it to their interaction with non-Hispanic patients.

You will see a whole other side of patient comfort and security because of the approachability of the healthcare provider.

Perhaps you want that too. On your time off from work, volunteer to help underserved communities and patients from rural areas to eradicate your prejudices.


5. Build Up Your Emotional Well-being

When you are more in touch with your emotions, you will have more centered thoughts, actions, and feelings.

This will prevent you from immediately jumping to conclusions when you work with different patients. For example, when you see a young mother, you may discuss the patient’s circumstances more compassionately instead of judging their sexual habits.

Working on your emotional health will make you more mindful, and you will begin to exercise restraint instead of lashing out in reactionary ways.

You should consider taking up meditation, going to therapy, or even doing yoga to construct a healthy relationship with your thoughts. This will make you more forthcoming and less judgmental.


6. Commit To Change

It is not fair to think you will quit your biases cold turkey. The change process is long and tedious, often met with more internal resistance than expected.

However, unless you actively commit and work on yourself every day, you will struggle to get better. Make a list of changes you need to make, such as the language you use behind a patient’s back and even descriptions you use for your colleagues.

Words you would never use on your patient’s face should promptly be removed from your vocabulary. This humanizes your patients and lets you see them in a different light.

For example, never refer to a patient struggling with addiction as a ‘junkie.’ This critical point of view makes you see them as nothing more than an addict.

Use better words, like trouble with addiction, to internalize your patient needs help and is not intentionally causing harm. Biased language colors your impression of a patient, and once you fix your choice of words, you will get better.


7. Talk About Biases at Work

Biases often fester in plain sight without active engagement, so the elephant in the room needs to get addressed. This will empower you to share your prejudices while allowing your colleagues to help you. Conversing on workplace biases will also help you comprehend acceptable and unacceptable behavior which elevates the healthcare standard.

You may also learn what unfair discrimination your coworkers may have against you, which can help you eliminate them. Unless the preferences get brought to light, the hospital’s environment will be hard to improve.


Final Thoughts

The thoughts you harbor influence you as a caregiver. When you habitually assume about and attack patients with your belief, you create unwarranted discrepancies at work.

Your patients deserve proper care and support, and to do this, you must work on yourself.

Learn how prejudiced you are and actively work on fixing it. You should interact with patients of many different identities, see them as equals and discard all unfair words you use to describe them.

You should also choose a more diverse work environment that increases your exposure and commitment to becoming better.

Keep at it, and you will notice yourself become better as a nurse. Instead of pushing patients away, you will find it easier to be equitable towards them.